My Every Existing Memory

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Digital drawing. Composite image. Left bottom, a young man seen from his left side, from the shoulders up, with his eyes closed, with his hand in his hair. Faint words are visible in his hair. The word “Forward,” and below it, in reverse, the word “Backward.” He is in grayscale, while the rest of the image is in color. Behind and to his right is the façade of a diner seen from an angle. An “Open” sign hangs from the closed door. Four windows are visible. A sign above the door and windows reads “Singing Star.” Above the sign is a marquee with a huge five-pointed cartoon star hung in the center. The star has closed eyes with long lashes and an open mouth painted with lipstick. Beside the star are lines hung with musical notation symbols, flanked by more stars. Behind and to the left of the diner is a sign seen at an angle. The sign reads “Dr. V. Varma, Applied Transdimensional Theory, 8-9 PM, Auditorium.” To the sign’s left is a set of two theater chairs. A backpack lies under the leftmost chair.

“Memories are unreliable…”

Max paused, hesitated actually.  He’d rehearsed aloud what he was going to say so many times—despite not needing to remember the words—that he’d fooled himself into believing it all sounded reasonable.  But now, he was about to say the words out loud to another person, the most critical person he could possibly tell his truth to.

He inhaled.  He shook his head and smiled at his patiently waiting lunch companion, who sat across from him at the Singing Star Diner.  He’d come that far.  And she was listening.  He wanted—needed—not to mess it up.

He huffed out a breath.  “What I have to say…it’s going to be a lot to swallow.  And as I mentioned to you before, I have some serious concerns.  By the time I’m done talking, maybe even before then, you’ll probably run out of here so fast there’ll be a Doctor Varma-shaped hole in the wall.”

Dr. Varma laughed.  “It’s Vivien, please.  And considering my line of work, I’ve been there—I’ll be there again in fact, a week from now, at my lecture that I hope you’re still planning on attending.”

Max searched his forward memories.  It was still there, the memory of him attending Dr. Vivien Varma’s lecture presenting her most recent findings in practical applications of transdimensional principles.

Vivien leaned over her cup of coffee.  “Are your concerns about your research, or mine?”

“I’ll start with mine,” Max said.  “There’s some background you need to have about a recent invention that no one else knows about.”  And it wasn’t actually all that recent, but he would get to that.

Vivien gave a knowing nod and leaned back a little, still keeping eye contact.  The gestures were meant to put him at ease probably.  Max could already feel the sweat forming at his temples.  He probably looked nervous.  Though he hoped he didn’t.

“Bear with me,” he said.  “It…starts a little boring, but well, okay, um, I once worked for a company that specialized in memory management.  The recall of wanted memories.  The disconnection of emotion with traumatic memories.  Research and development, mostly.  But we did have some applications, I think, in therapy.”

“Are we talking about drugs, or…?”

“Oh, uh, techniques combined with devices—I’m not at liberty to divulge details.  I wouldn’t know many anyway.  I wasn’t on the therapy side of things.  But as I was saying before, memories are unreliable.  Even people who are trained at recalling accurate details get things wrong, significantly wrong.  One of the field’s aims is to improve recall.  That was what I used to work.  And I would tinker away on my own—as some of us did.  On theories and ideas, of course.  But I also worked on the practical application side, with prototype design and construction.”

Max glanced down at his half-eaten sour cream and blueberry pie and smiled.  “I believes that if I—if we, if people—could truly remember in faithful detail, combined with responsible regulation of emotions associated with those memories, it would do some good in society.  Help prevent miscommunications and misunderstandings, trickery.  Help increase our overall intelligence.” 

He looked up and grinned.  “Advance our entire species.”

He shrugged.  “I was tinkering on my own time, so why not aim for the sky?”

“And beyond?” Vivian said, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Yeah, I aimed to go beyond inventing a tool.  I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to expand their minds.”

Max sighed.  “But I ran into issues.  Not with the tech.  That worked just fine, which surprised me actually.  I expected that to be the hard part.  But I knew it worked because I tested it on myself.  And I soon came to realize how overwhelming it could be to remember every detail—I mean every single detail, of even one day.  I should have anticipated that.  I got ahead of myself, I guess.  The memories intruded, even when I applied emotion and impulse management attachments.  That’s when I realized that I hadn’t planned on how to organize the memories.  Rather than actively remembering everything, what would be more useful was if I could consciously access any memory whenever I wanted.  I went about this by tagging memories as they were made with dates and times, key words, key sensory details, refining as I went.”

“Sounds like you were using the principles of mnemonics and kicking them up a notch.”

“Exactly, and I aimed to create a virtual library.”  Max took a breath and sighed it out.  “But I came to realize that the library model was insufficiently slow.  I needed to remember a talk for work one time, a quarterly meeting.  I had to wait half a minute before I was able to recover the ‘file’ from my memory library.  I managed to stall with a joke or two, but my mind struggled with those too.  Anyway, I recovered and the talk went well.  Other than a few cheesy jokes from colleagues, the incident went unnoticed, by others.  But not by me.  Half a minute is a long time when you’re up on a stage, and people are waiting for you to say something.”

“Oh, I can empathize with that.”

“Right, well, I went back to the drawing board.  The concept had potential.  I’d proven that I could make it work practically too.  But I was missing something.  Until I figured that out, it didn’t matter that I’d gotten the device to work.  It wouldn’t be useful to anyone.  Except if you were looking to experience constant nausea and headaches.” 

Their server came by then, dropping off the bill, and letting them know there was no rush.  Vivien swiped the bill and held it under the table.

She peered at him, her gaze shifting up to the top of his head for a moment.  “Are you…wearing your device right now?”

Max realized his shoulders had tensed.  He tried to relax them.  “I am.” 

Vivien held the bill out to him, and asked if he could read it.  She gave him a moment to scan the whole thing, then she held it under the table again, so only she could see it.  She asked him to recite the first few lines of the bill.  They’d had a full lunch and dessert, and she had ordered a few baked goods to take home to her family.  There were several lines. 

Max recited them all, the items, the prices, even the disclaimer at the bottom about refund eligibility.

“I don’t know, Max,” she said, half-smiling, “you could just have a really great memory.”

Max’s stomach lurched when she said his name.  A recent memory intruded, of him telling her that his friends called him “Max.”  He’d just met her, but as he’d feared, she seemed like a decent and charming person. 

“So what happened next?” she asked.  “Did you find the missing piece of your memory puzzle?”

Max calmed.  She had just given him the opportunity to stall, for just a while longer.

“Actually, I got a little distracted for a bit,” he said.  “The company I was working for changed management.  We’d always had things to complain about.  Who doesn’t?  Inefficiencies, problems with our ‘Inhuman Lack of Resources’ department.”

Vivien chuckled. 

Max continued.  “I complained and commiserated with my colleagues, as people do.  We’d gone through changes before.  But I heard about revisions being made to people’s contracts.  One of the appeals of working for the company was that people could hold on to their own patents.  That was changing.  The company wanted to take over all patents, in exchange for salary increases.  Their claim was that it ensured that lone inventors were held accountable for what they created, due to the sensitive nature of the field we were working in.  To some it made sense.  To me too, except that I didn’t quite trust the motive, or the promise that the company was making.  Maybe I was right.  Maybe I was wrong.  All I knew is that if I was going to put any new invention into anyone’s hands other than my own, the hands I chose would not be my old company, and certainly not under the leadership of the new executive team.”

“Did you do any of your ‘tinkering’ on your company’s computers?”

Max shook his head.  “On my computers only.  On my time.  I bought the components for the device with my own money.  But…I still set my device aside.  I was worried that the company might somehow find out about it and claim it, even if I wasn’t using any of their resources.  Because it was related to my work, and that might be enough under the new contracts.”

“You said this is your old company, so…”

Max nodded.  “One day, I had an idea, one I really wanted to try.  But I didn’t trust the company not to take my device.  So I thought about it for a while.  And I started applying to other positions.  I got one at a non-profit.  It’s where I work now.  So, having quit, I went back to my device.  And I had a breakthrough.  A new model.  Maps.”

Vivien raised her brows slightly.

“I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before,” Max said.  “It’s seems so obvious now.”

“You know how the saying goes.  Sometimes the things that are right in front of your face are the easiest to miss.”

“True.” 

A surge of anxiety swelled in Max’s chest.  Anxiety, but also excitement.  The same excitement he’d felt when he’d had his breakthrough, when he’d tried it, when it had worked.  He had never been able to share that excitement with anyone.  Not at the time.

“It worked,” he said, smiling, letting his excitement overwhelm his anxiety.  “I built a new prototype, to organize everything, to map my every existing memory.” 

“Max, please tell me you don’t call it a MEEM.”

Max hesitated, then realized what she meant and widened his eyes in mock shock.  “Oh, no.  You would have to denounce me if I did that.”

“Absolutely, I would.”

“Okay, well, I used it on myself.”

“Reckless.”

“Yeah, a little, but it paid off.  All those issues—stray memories, nausea, headaches, slow recall—they went away.  I had, and still have, perfect recall.  My new bosses don’t really know the specifics of what I used to do for my old company.  I saw an opportunity to help them with my newfound ability.  I told my boss about it, demonstrated it, but I presented it as an ability I’d developed over my life.  They send me in to places where recording devices are not allowed, like closed-door meetings with officials, and I remember things that help them hold those officials accountable, that kind of thing.”

Vivien sat back.  “Sounds like you’re on your way to revealing that profound advance you were talking about, for our species.  But you didn’t ask me to lunch just to brag about your success story.  You’ve hit another kink.  A serious one from the sounds of it.  Is that where my research comes in?  I’m not seeing an intersection yet.” 

Max’s stomach lurched again.  It was time.  “All of what I just described to you…happened seven years ago.  I haven’t been able to think of a safe way to reveal my device to the public, to anyone actually.  And I had decided that if I couldn’t find that safe way, I would never reveal the existence of my device.” 

Vivien sat forward again, over her forgotten cup of coffee, her brows creasing.

“The reason I’m… over the past six months, I’ve started remembering things that never happened.  Or that’s what I thought.”

Vivien peered at him.  “I think I see where you’re going.  You suspect these are stray memories from other versions of yourself from other dimensions, maybe?”

Max frowned.  “No, Doctor.  That’s not what I suspect.”  Max had not considered it, though it seemed a reasonable conclusion now that she’d said it.  He hoped such a thing was not possible.

He took a breath and exhaled deeply.  “My memory mapping device, once activated, it operates on its own, mapping all the memories that exist in my mind. I expected this meant that the device would move backwards through time, mapping memories from when I was younger, all the way to my earliest memories.  There would still be gaps, issues with memory integrity, according to how I perceived, especially when I was younger, or during times when my perceptions were impaired—like illness or intoxication.  But I found this one memory that I couldn’t place in time.  Nothing dramatic.  I was searching for a lost backpack.”

He noted that Vivien glanced at the backpack sitting next to him.

“Memory intrusion still happens sometimes,” he said.  “That’s just natural.  But it’s usually not something as seemingly mundane as looking for a lost backpack.  But that memory sometimes recurred, and every time I tried to follow it, it wouldn’t resolve.  I’ve observed that when a memory doesn’t resolve, it means the machine isn’t done mapping it.  So I would try to follow the memory every now and then to see if it had resolved yet, but I didn’t have any luck.  Then one day, I had another memory I couldn’t place, of meeting someone I knew I’d never met before.  I hadn’t even started guessing at what could be happening.  But a few days later, when a friend took me to try a new restaurant, I started getting déjà vu, and before the night was done, I met that person, just like in the memory.  It was strange.  I pushed the memory aside so it wouldn’t be distracting.  Later when I recalled it, there was just the one memory.  I couldn’t tell if anything had gone differently from the way that I had recalled it before I actually experienced it.

“This started happening more and more,” Max said.  “I call them ‘forward memories.’  My device wasn’t just mapping backwards, it seemed to be mapping forward in time, finding all my memories that existed, including the ones that were in the future.  I am moving through time linearly.  Those memories don’t exist yet for me.  But to the device, all the memories exist in one instance.  Past, present, and future are just different areas of one country, and my device can access them all.” 

“You have precognition.”

“In a way, just about my own experiences.  The intrusions are haphazard.  I still have to purposely access most forward memories.  I just try to follow a path of thought, and it would lead me to a memory, and a few days later, or a few weeks later, that thing would happen.”

“Do you have any idea how your device can do this?”

“Maybe it can be explained by my extrapolation algorithm.  It’s predictive because it’s following a path that human logic is not able to follow.”  Max shrugged.  The mystery of how his device worked was one he would gladly investigate, if he didn’t have another more dire mystery to unravel.

“All the while, that one memory kept intruding,” he continued, “even after I performed recalibrations to reduce intrusions.  By now, I figured it was a forward memory.”  He pointed to the backpack sitting beside him.  “I go to a lecture, a lecture on practical applications of transdimensional principles.  I push my backpack under my seat to let people walk in front of me to get to their seats. I forget the backpack after the lecture.  I’m halfway to me car when I remember.  I run back and one of the security people let me go back into the auditorium to check.  I find my backpack, but I hear something by the stage.  I wonder if the lecturer is still there.  She’d been answering questions after the talk was done.  I’d wanted to talk to her too, but I thought it might be better to try to setting up a separate meeting.  I hear a voice backstage, a woman’s voice…”

Vivien had drawn back as he spoke.  Her expression had turned from curious to cautious.

“That’s where the memory ends,” he said.  “And having met you, I now know for sure that the voice in my memory is yours.”  

Max glanced away, but he glanced forward again to see if he had scared her.  She did look tensed.  It would be a good thing, he’d told himself, even if she didn’t believe him, if she was scared enough to increase her security.  He still had a little more to tell her, and if he hadn’t already raised all her red flags, and if she hadn’t already raised all her shields, she would soon.  But maybe…maybe if she did, things would change.

Maybe his memory would change.

“It’s my very last memory,” Max said.

He felt his throat tighten.  He swallowed.  “I know this because I’ve tried to see past it, forward from it. But I can’t.” 

He feared that Vivien might get up any minute now.  He caught her glancing at people nearby.  The diner was full of people.  Their presence was giving her enough comfort to buy him more time.  But he had to use that time.

“What’s in the backpack, Max?” she asked.

Max blinked.  He didn’t expect that question.  And then he realized that she must have thought there was something important in there.  His research or maybe, maybe if she thought he was dangerous, a weapon or something. 

“If you have perfect recall,” she said, “how would you forget your backpack?”

Max opened his backpack to show her that there was nothing unusual in there. His wallet, jacket, umbrella, books.  “The recall isn’t active memory.  I can still forget where I put my keys, but in the snap of a finger, I can recall the memory of exactly where I left them.  As soon as I realized I’d forgotten my backpack, I recalled where I’d left it.”

“Fair enough.  So tell me this, how did you see this conversation going?”

Max held her gaze.  “I didn’t see it.  I tried to, but the device couldn’t resolve the memory.”

“What does that mean?  I thought that only happened if it hadn’t finished mapping.  But it sounds like your device has mapped your memories past this point in time.”

“You’re right.  On both points.  But it’s like, it’s like accessing a part of the memory country that’s rough terrain.  It’s easier to go map elsewhere, past that point.  I think what it means is that this conversation could go any number of ways.  And the probabilities are too spread out for the device to calculate what’s most likely.”

She peered at him for a few seconds, then gave a single nod.  “That makes sense.”

Max raised his brows.  “Really?  You…you believe me?”

“I’m not sure if I do or not.”

Max tried to smile.  “I’m not sure either.  Because memories are unreliable, no matter how faithfully I believe I’m recalling mine.  I remember hearing your voice and hesitating for a moment before deciding to try and see if I could go backstage, preparing to call out so I wouldn’t take anyone by surprise, realizing in a split second that what I was hearing was an argument, and then something happens.  Things get hazy, and go black just as I hear a scream.”

Vivien was frowning.  Her lips were pressed together.  Max could not read her expression.  He kept talking.

“I thought maybe I just passed out or something—from stress, exhaustion.  I’ve definitely felt both for a while now.  So I tried to follow the memory forward to whenever I’d wake up, expecting to see paramedics maybe.  That scream.  I’m pretty sure it was you.  I thought you’d seen me and called for help.  But I can’t move forward from that moment.”  He fixed his gaze on hers.  “Because I don’t think I passed out.”

He thought he noted her shoulders sagging a little, from the weight of the burden he’d just placed on them.  She crossed her arms and sat back.  She was silent for a moment, staring down at the tabletop.

“I’ll be honest, Max,” she said at last.  She looked up at him.  “I’m not sure I’m convinced.  But you definitely are.  Sounds like you shouldn’t come to my lecture, or at least….”  Her expression softened just a bit.  “…leave your backpack at home.”

“Vivien, what if I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“And you know you can stay home and stay safe, so you’re here to try to warn me?  You told me that whole story as—what—proof?”  Her eyes narrowed as she shook her head.  “I have a feeling you want something more.” 

“I made the decision not to come to your lecture, and then I recalled the memory, hoping it would have changed.  But it didn’t change.  It didn’t change because I was lying to myself.  I would go.  I was compelled to go.  And I figured it was because I…because of what I suspect.  So I thought, as creepy—scratch that—as scary as it sounds, I should tell you.  And now that you know, you can beef up your security.  And maybe not talk to anyone after.  Maybe get some friends to come and leave with you.  And we can both stay safe.”

“I was having an argument with someone?  Backstage?”  She sat forward again and frowned, glancing to the side as if trying to think.

“I’m sorry, I blacked out before I saw anyone.  I couldn’t see who…”

“But I could,” she said, her gaze shifting back towards him. “If I used your memory map, I could see who I was arguing with.  Who hurt you.  That’s what you want, isn’t it?  That’s your reason for telling me about your device.  Because if someone was trying to hurt me, and they failed one time, they might try again.”  She pushed aside her coffee cup and leaned forward, propping her elbows on the table, and clasping her hands.  “Let’s say I buy everything you’re saying.  Every word.  You said it took years before your device began mapping your memories forward.  It doesn’t sound like I have that much time.  My lecture is in less than a week.”

“I was hoping that maybe you’d be able to think of someone who might want to hurt you,” Max said, “maybe because of your research, or maybe something personal…?” 

She shrugged her brows and pursed her lips.  “Well, I’m not one of those ‘everyone loved her’ kind of people.  But I also don’t think I have the kinds of enemies who’d want to, to kill me?   Is that what you saw?  The last moments of both our lives?”

Max winced.  “Mine…I’m pretty sure, yes.  But yours, I hope not.”

“Even so, it sounds like something bad does happen to me—or will happen.”  She sat back.  “I’m going to take you seriously, Max.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to take your word at face value.  I need to do my own thinking.  And then I’ll call you.”  She tapped a fingertip on the tabletop.  “And then we’ll do lunch again.”

Max gulped down the knot that had been forming in his throat, and he nodded.

***

In the next few days, Max tried to resolve what he believed to be his last memory.  His reviewed his conversation with Vivien.  He tried to think of alternate plans to help her, save her and himself, in case she had only said she believed him to get away from him that day.  His memories showed him sincerity in her tone, her gestures, her expressions.  But then again, he’d only just met her.  He couldn’t be sure.

She did call him, but it wasn’t to ask him to lunch.  She asked him to meet at her lab.  And she asked him to bring his device, if he wanted her to trust him.

There were other people in the building, but Max and Vivien were the only two people in her lab.

“I’ve mostly been checking into your story and your background,” she said.  “Oh, and heads up, your boss might suspect that you’re looking to jump ship.  She definitely got the impression that I was looking to recruit you.  Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay.  I’m just glad you called.”

“I’ve also been working on what I thought we were going to talk about the last time we spoke…the intersection of our research?”

Max cocked his head.

“Time is a dimension,” Vivien said. “Not the dimension that I do my research in, but a dimension nonetheless.  So I have studied it to some extent.  I asked you to bring your device, because I wanted to see if we can modify it to essentially ‘map faster.’  If we can do that, then maybe—and this is a maybe—I would consider using it so I can try seeing what you’re not able to see.”

Max put his case on her benchtop and keyed in the code to open it.  He lifted the lid to show her his device.  

She peered at it.  “That’s it, huh?”

“That’s it.”

Max looked at her.  “Vivien, are you sure…?”

She looked him.  “Are you?”

He sighed.  “Why are we trusting each other?”

She shrugged.  “I like your face?”

Despite himself, Max smiled and shook his head.

***

Max took a few days off.  Vivien, as head of her department, already had a flexible schedule.  They tested the device as it was on Vivien.  It worked as expected.  Then they worked all day on the modifications, arguing over applications at lunch, planning sober back-up plans over dinner. 

Every now and then, Max would apologize for upending her life.  And Vivien would respond with a serious sigh and a noncommittal but resolved comment like, “let’s just see what we can do about it.”

On the night before Vivien’s lecture, they decided they had made as many modifications as they safely could.  Max was certain the device was ready.  Vivien was certain it was ready.  But he noted that her breathing was tight and shallow as she paced before the device, psyching herself up to use it.

“I’m not afraid of your little MEEM, you know,” she said, throwing a half-hearted smirk at him.  The smirk faded quickly.  “I’m afraid of what I’ll see when I use it.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Oh, I definitely do.”

She settled in a chair, and affixed the device to herself.  She closed her eyes, and the device went to work right away, mapping her most recent memories.  She recited them to Max so he could calibrate the device and help it to map more efficiently.  He monitored her condition, checking for signs of nausea, headache, emotional distress, or memory intrusions.  She complained of initial dizziness and a crackling sound that dissipated the longer the device was on and working. 

And they waited, for the map to complete its survey of backwards memories, and begin its survey of Vivien’s forward memories.

Max directed her on how to follow her map to the memories she wanted to see, to focus, and not get distracted by wanting to follow pleasant memories.  

Vivien reported seeing herself giving the lecture she was going to be giving that night.

“I did it,” she said, her eyes still closed.  “I’m in a forward memory.”

“Okay, remember you can snap it away if you need to.”

She nodded and shifted in her chair.  “I’m going backstage, and trying to get my stuff to leave.  There’s no security there, but I was the last speaker.  Everyone else is gone.  But someone is there.  I’m nervous, but I recognize his face.  He was in the audience.  We exchange greetings.  He tells me he enjoyed my talk.  And then he asks about my collaborators.  I ask him for his credentials.  But he ignores my question and…”  She frowned.  “…you Max.  He asks about you.  I lie.  I say I don’t know you.”

Max felt his jaw clench by reflex.  He wanted to put to put his hand on Vivien’s shoulder, to let her know he was there.  That she was not alone.  But she was in a memory.  And she had her eyes closed.  He didn’t want to startle her.

Vivien continued narrating her memory.  “He calls my bluff, says he knows you and I have started collaborating.”  Vivien grimaced.  “They’ve been watching us, Max.   He says he’s from your old company.”  She huffed out a breath and shook her head.  “He’s there to serve me a cease-and-desist, because you’re not supposed to invent memory management ware.  I tell him that if I’m approached by you, I’ll just refuse to work with you.  But this guy, he insists that he knows we’re already working together.  He tells me I’m just jeopardizing my own research and career.”

Vivien curled her fists.  “I try again to get his name.  I ask if he has a card.  He just shoves an envelope at me.  I tell him I’d be contacting my lawyer, my company’s lawyers.  Wait…his phone is ringing.”

Max’s eye widened.  His mind recalled the memory.  He hadn’t been sure.  He was bent over the seat reaching for his backpack.  He’d heard voices, but they stopped and…had he heard a ringtone?  He had straightened and looked toward the stage.

Vivien continued.  “He answers his phone.  Says, ‘Are you sure?’ and then ‘Okay.’  He tucks it away, and then—“

She recoiled, leaning back so far, she almost knocked her chair over. 

“Vivien!”

“I’m okay.”

“Snap out of it.”

“No, I’m okay.  It’s just a memory.  He comes at me and grabs me.  And I yell, ‘I told you, I don’t know him!’ and I struggle to get away.”

Max’s heart began to hammer.

I don’t know him.

He remembered her saying those words, shouting them.

She continued.  “He drags me out to the stage where I see another man knocking someone down, you.  It’s you.  I scream as you drop the ground.  The other man, he looks up at us, and he says, ‘Should we take him too?’  But the guy holding me says, ‘No, we don’t need him anymore.  We have her.’  So the guy standing over you, he takes out a gun.”

“No!” Vivien gasped a breath and opened her eyes.  She sat forward.  “I’m out.  I’m out of the memory.”

Max gaped at her.  His throat had gone dry.  He swallowed.  He dragged his tongue over dry lips.  “It’s because of me,” he said.  “All along.”  He felt a surge of panic in his chest.

“Max, I didn’t get his name, but I can describe him.”  Vivien rose from the chair and gripped his shoulders.  “In painstaking detail.  The flyaway thread on his tacky suit.  The little scar on his nose.  The idiot was wearing some kind of fragrance.  Max, hey…”  She shook him gently.  “Your turn to snap out of it.”

But Max was following his memory of the night again, searching for some way he might draw the men away from Vivien before they took her, knowing it was futile because his involvement of her had already endangered her.  It was too late.  But he started feels nausea, the farther he tried to push into the memory, the more he felt a resistance in his head, a tension. 

“The memory is losing focus,” he said.  “The device can’t resolve it.”

He looked up at her and they locked gazes.  Vivien looked away first, closing her eyes. 

“Dinner…dinner at the Singing Star, Max” she said. 

Max summoned his memories of the diner, and found one he hadn’t seen before, one that would happen…in seven days.  Dinner, dinner at the Singing Star, with Vivien.

“I’m not going to die tomorrow,” he whispered, and it was half a question.

“I’m following the memory,” Vivien said.  “I know what I need to do for my part.  Let’s hope your memory resolves pretty soon, so you can see if they had anything else planned for you.  They didn’t expect you to come back to the auditorium, so maybe they’ll have someone waiting for you at your car, or your place.”

“Maybe.” Max gulped. 

“One crisis averted…pending aversion.  No doubt there are more to follow.”

Max nodded.  “We should apply your modifications to my device too.  If I’m living past tomorrow, I’ll need to know what’s coming.”

“Well, I don’t have to rehearse my talk half a dozen times like I usually do, so…we can work on that tomorrow.  Should go faster now that we know what to do.”

Max looked at her.  His shoulders heaved.  “Vivien, I’m so sorry I got you into this.”

Vivien sighed.  “I didn’t have to call you back after that first meeting.”

“But I didn’t leave you any other good choices.”

“Well, I’m in it.”  She pointed at him.  “But that means you owe me.”

“A life debt.  I know.”

She held up her hands.  “Whoa, I didn’t mean it to sound so serious.  We can start with every meal we eat together being on you.”

Max put a hand to his heart.  “In perpetuity.”

Vivien peered at him.  “Someone doesn’t want us working together, Maxie.”

“Probably because you can help bring my device to the next level.”  Max shook his head.  “All this time, I thought no one knew about it.  But that was dumb.  Of course they were spying on me.  I guess I wasn’t paranoid enough.”

“Or arrogant enough about the extraordinary thing you invented.”

“An invention that affects the mind.  I never should have done it alone.”

“Neither of us is alone now.  The irony is, the people who didn’t want it to happen are the very ones who made it happen.  They are the ones who are forcing our hand.  The only advantage we have against a corporation with bottomless resources is our new version of your invention.”

Max frowned.  “You mean limitless resources?  Why did you have to say ‘bottomless’?  Now I have an image.”

“That’s on you.”

Max sighed, a sigh of partial relief.  But there was still a baseline of tension, of alertness, in his mind.  “If we stay ahead of them, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

“And your device.”

“I’m going to spend the rest of my life making this up to you, Viv.”

Vivien blinked, and her eyes took on an intense gleam. “And I’m going to spend the rest of mine making sure that if I’m around to see your last moment, I’m going to be seeing you lying comfortably, surrounded by your loved ones, with only gray hairs on your head, and a smile on your face…under a million wrinkles.”   

Max did not have to access his forward memories to know that however far they extended, his new partner—his friend—would now be a part of them.



Copyright © 2021  Nila L. Patel

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